Alcohol Consumed During Pregnancy Connected to Offspring’s Depression

Mar 15, 2023 | Alcohol

A recent study by the University of Bristol has revealed a potential link between an increased risk of late adolescent depression and prenatal exposure to alcohol. The research suggests that children born to mothers who consume alcohol during pregnancy may be at greater risk of developing depressive symptoms in later stages of their life.

Published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, the study was based on the data of 14,541 mothers who were pregnant in the 1990s. While earlier research has suggested that babies exposed to alcohol in the womb have a greater risk of a variety of adverse outcomes, few studies have explored the connection with mental health problems in late adolescence.

Researchers from Bristol Medical School and the Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group, part of Bristol’s School of Psychological Science and the Medical Research Council (MRC) Integrative Epidemiology Unit, investigated whether the frequency mothers and their partners drank alcohol during pregnancy was linked with offspring depression at age 18.

Bristol’s Children of the 90s — also referred to as Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) — is a longitudinal birth cohort that began tracking pregnant mothers, their partners, and their children since the 1990s.

The research team studied data collected from 14,541 pregnant women – 4,191 had consumed alcohol between 18-32 weeks of their pregnancy while the rest had not. They also analyzed drinking habits of the partners to determine any correlation with depression among the children at age 18.

The authors of the study considered and included the alcohol use of partners, even though it was improbable to have any direct biological impact on the fetus. By doing this, they could figure out if it was simply because of shared confounding factors between parents or something more causal.

According to a study, expectant mothers that drink alcohol during the 18th week of pregnancy may put their children at risk for depression once they turn 18. They estimated this risk to be as high as 17 percent higher than those children whose mothers didn’t drink alcohol during pregnancy.

They found no link between a partner’s drinking behavior and teen depression in his or her children. Research suggests that maternal drinking may be the primary driving force behind observed associations between partners, rather than any other unknown factors they may share. 

This research highlights the need to focus on both mom and partner’s behaviors to determine which one is the root cause. Not only this, but these behaviors are important in their own accord.

Dr Kayleigh Easey, Senior Research Associate in Genetic Epidemiology and the study’s lead author from Bristol Medical School, explains: “It can be challenging to assess the causal effect of alcohol use in pregnancy, and we have to be careful in the interpretation of results given the sensitivity of alcohol as a risk factor and traditional views around low-level drinking.”

In January 2016, the Department of Health shifted its stance and issued new advice for pregnant women, stipulating that abstaining from alcohol consumption during pregnancy is the safest approach. They believe the potential effects of light to moderate alcohol consumption on the mental health of children to be minimal. So, out of an abundance of caution, the guidelines have been revised accordingly.

This study indicates that pregnant women should practice abstinence to ensure the health and well-being of their baby. It reinforces the need for such preventive measures to mitigate any potential risks. Women can benefit from this info to make informed decisions and minimize the risk of alcohol use while expecting or when trying to conceive.

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